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A city with room for migrants, if not a roof over their heads

This part of the data series looks at migration, its impact of on Delhi’s demographics, and the pressure it puts on housing.

Updated: February 3, 2015 10:24:26 am
Delhi has transformed steadily from being a Punjabi migrants’ city to being a melting pot for people from the Hindi heartland. (AP Photo) Delhi has transformed steadily from being a Punjabi migrants’ city to being a melting pot for people from the Hindi heartland. (AP Photo)

In electoral arithmetic, nothing plays as big a role as the demographic profile of a city or state. In Delhi’s case, migration is believed to be a major determinant in an evolving demography. This also has a direct bearing on Delhi’s housing situation, an issue that has remained central to the political promises of all three major parties.

ARRIVAL & GROWTH: Since 1951, the average decadal growth in Delhi’s population has been 45.8 per cent, exceeding 45 per cent in every decade except 2001-2011, when it increased by 21 per cent. This was far higher than the national average decadal growth rate.

More crucially, migration accounts for more than 23 per cent of the total increase in population. This is calculated as the additional increase in mid-year populations in each year between 2001 and 2011, over and above the natural increase (difference between birth and death rates). In the absence of migration, Delhi’s decadal growth rate during 2001-11 would have been lower than the national average of 17.64 per cent.
According to the last available granular numbers (Census 2001), Uttar Pradesh accounted for almost half (43.1 per cent) of Delhi’s migrants. This has increased to 47 per cent, as per a recent Perceptions Survey (2013) conducted by the Institute for Human Development for the Delhi government. Bihar’s share has also risen to 31 per cent from 14 in 2001. Clearly, Delhi has transformed steadily from being a Punjabi migrants’ city to being a melting pot for people from the Hindi heartland.

This has altered the socio-economic profile of the city. According to a 2013 study (Changing Electoral Politics in Delhi: from Caste to Class) 63 per cent of migrants in Delhi from Bihar and 46 per cent from UP are “poor”. In other words, while overall wealth might be increasing, so are inequalities. Secondly, 45 per cent (according to the Delhi Statistical Handbook, 2014) of migrants are women, most of whom migrate after marriage. As noted earlier in this series, a large number of these women remain vulnerable and insecure due to lack of employment opportunities.

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These social and economic factors will certainly play a vital part in political calculations leading to the polls.

HOMES & HOMELESS: Perhaps most critically, rapid migration has also adversely affected housing security in Delhi. In 2011, Delhi’s share in the urban houseless population was more than 5.1 per cent, even while Delhi accounted for only 4.2 per cent of the total urban population. The absolute number of houseless people also doubled between 2001 and 2011. This was much higher than the national increase in urban houseless at 20.5 per cent.


Though the absolute number of houseless at less than 50,000 may seem small, these do not include regular slums and unauthorised colonies, but only people living in “open or roadside pavements, in hume-pipes, under flyovers and staircases, or in the open in places of worship, mandaps, railway platforms, etc”. Apart from such homeless, notified slum dwellers comprise a further 10 per cent of the population.

As noted earlier in this series, housing holds the key to several problems in urban areas. Poor housing facilities are breeding grounds for disease, low productivity and poverty. Low-cost housing could facilitate access to credit, which could enhance livelihood opportunities for the poor, most of whom are migrants. After all, it must not be forgotten that even today, 10 per cent of Delhi’s population live on less than Rs  33 per day, while several more languish just above this limit.

HomesAccording to a UN estimate, the annual growth rate of Delhi’s population between 1975 and 2025 would stand at 8.23 per cent, while none of the other major world metropolises would grow at more than 6 per cent — including the other Indian metros. Clearly, if unaddressed by the new government, a migration and housing crisis stares Delhi in the face.

This data series is being published in partnership with Swaniti Initiative

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